New Delhi: Even as the debate over access to women in the inner sanctum of Haji Ali Dargah rages, several members of the Muslim community have started questioning the practice of disallowing women in graves and graveyards.
“No religious scripture bars women from visiting graves. Prophet Muhammad himself regularly visited the graveyard and recommended people to do it without any gender discrimination. There is no caste or gender bias in Islam and both men and women have the right to participate in all walks of life equally,” said Zeenat Shaukat Ali, professor of Islamic Studies at St Xavier's College, Mumbai. She is also the founder-director general of The World Institute of Islamic Studies for Dialogue, Organisation of Mediation and Gender Justice.
The graves, she said quoting Prophet Muhammad, should be frequented by men and women for two reasons: one, it reminds them of death and two, they can pray for the people buried there.
Citing instances, she said, “Prophet Muhammad’s wife Hazrat Ayesha Siddiqua used to visit the grave of her brother Abd ar-Rahman. Also, Hazrat Fatima Zehra, the Prophet's daughter, used to visit the grave of her uncle Hazrat Hamza regularly.
There is no authentic version Islam, according to her, that proves women are not allowed to visit graveyards. “Yes, Prophet Muhammad had earlier forbidden women from visiting graves because attachment to the dead was widespread those days. But later he encouraged everyone to visit the graves and pray for those lying there,” she said.
To prove her points, she quoted a hadith from Hazrat Ayesha who once asked the Prophet what she should say while visiting graves and he replied, ‘Greetings to you, the people of the abodes among the men and women believers! May Allàh grant mercy to those of you and us who went ahead and those who tarried back! Truly we shall – if Allah wills – join up with you.’
Noted columnist Sadia Dehlvi, who has authored of Sufism: The Heart of Islam and The Sufi Courtyard: Dargahs of Delhi, believes that all dargahs are generally inclusive.
“You see men, women and children in the courtyards. However, in some dargahs women are not allowed inside the inner chamber which contains the actual grave. The dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti Gharib Nawaz in Ajmer, Rajhastan, is the most famous and most important dargah in Asia. Men and women of all faiths are allowed entry in the inner chamber. However, some dargahs like that of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi do not allow women inside the room that contains the burial chamber. Haji Ali Dargah had previously allowed women to go right inside and should allow it once again. What is interesting is that at some dargahs of women sufis, men are not allowed inside,” she said.
On the issue of taking the Haji Ali management to court, Dehlvi says, “This should have been best resolved through dialogue and not through confrontation. Muslims in charge of sacred spaces should do a rethink and be more welcoming of women. Nothing is more sacred to Muslims than the Kaaba in Mecca, which men and women have circled together for centuries. At Prophet Muhammad's mosque in Medina, there are vast spaces for women to pray.”
But Islamic feminist writer Sheeba Aslam Fehmi has a completely different view on the topic. According to her, dargahs are the places where common man’s sufferings are “exploited”.
“They are the centre of corruption, filth, dirt and all sorts of pervert practices. Instead of demanding the rights to enter, women should stop visiting such shrines as it would not empower them in anyway. Every fight for equality is not emancipation,” she said.
Zakia Soman, co-petitioner of the PIL filed in the Bombay High Court against the restriction at Haji Ali Dargah, blamed the patriarchal mindset of the shrine committee. “Islam allows women to enter and pray inside the dargah (sufi shrine) but its trustees discourage women and prevent them to enter the inner sanctorum. It is simply caste discrimination,” she alleged. Interestingly, she said, some of the trustees of the Haji Ali Dargah are also the trustees of the Mahim Dargah, where women are allowed.
Asked why only dargahs, women are not allowed to visit graveyards, she said, “We do not want any place in the world where women’s entry is barred. Our religion is universal. It is not restricted to a particular gender. It is for everyone. Such restrictions are being imposed on us by some self-proclaimed clerics whom we refuse to accept.”
The Bombay High Court, which is hearing Soman’s petition, said it would wait for Supreme Court’s ruling on entry of women in Sabarimala temple of Kerala before deciding on the plea related to the dargah.
A bench of justices VM Kanade and Reveti Mohite-Dere had said both matters involved entry of women in the religious shrines, and hence they would like to see what view the apex court would take on the issue before deciding on the PIL pending before them.
The next HC hearing will take place on 3 February.